Categorical ethnicity and mental health literacy in New Zealand

Dannette Marie, D K Forsyth, Lynden Miles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Objective. Public social policies in New Zealand assume that there are fundamental differences between Maori views of health phenomena and non-Maori perceptions. The biomedical model and a Maori model known as Te Whare Tapa Wha are commonly employed to characterise these differences. Using the categorical ethnicity demarcation 'Maori/non-Maori' we investigate this claim with respect to mental health literacy about depression.
Design. Participants were randomly selected from the General and Maori Electoral Rolls and recruited by post (N=205). A vignette methodology was employed and involved the development of a fictional character as a target stimulus who exhibited the minimum DSM-IV-R criteria for a major depressive disorder. Participants responded to items regarding problem recognition, well-being, causal attributions, treatment preferences, and likely prognosis.
Results. The majority of Maori and non-Maori participants correctly identified the problem the vignette character was experiencing and nominated congruent attributions for the causes of the problem. In relation to treatment strategies and likely prognosis, independent of self-assigned ethnicity, participants rated professional treatments above alternative options. Overall the categorical ethnicity distinction 'Maori and non-Maori' produced no systematic variation with regards to individual evaluative responses about a major depressive disorder.
Conclusions. Contrary to the embedded assumption within New Zealand's public health strategies that there are essential differences between the way Maori and non-Maori view health problems, and that the categorical ethnicity demarcation reliably reflects these differences, we found no evidence for the veracity of this claim using a major depressive disorder as a target for judgements. Alternative explanations are canvassed as to why this assumption about fundamental differences based on categorical ethnicity has gained ascendancy and prominence within the sphere of New Zealand health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-252
Number of pages28
JournalEthnicity & Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2004


  • mental health literacy
  • depression
  • psychiatric diagnosis
  • cultural influences
  • explanatory model
  • South India
  • lay beliefs
  • illness
  • Maori
  • disorders
  • attitudes
  • help


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